See Baby Discriminate

At the Children's Research Lab at the University of Texas, a database is kept on thousands of families in the Austin area who have volunteered to be available for scholarly research. In 2006 Birgitte Vittrup recruited from the database about a hundred families, all of whom were Caucasian with a child 5 to 7 years old.

The goal of Vittrup's study was to learn if typical children's videos with multicultural storylines have any beneficial effect on children's racial attitudes." (snip)

...At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, "We don't want to have these conversations with our child. We don't want to point out skin color."

Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children's racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.

It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup's entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like "Everybody's equal" or "God made all of us" or "Under the skin, we're all the same"—but they'd almost never called attention to racial differences.

They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup's first test of the kids revealed they weren't colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, "Almost none." Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, "Some," or "A lot." Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way."

We all want our children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills necessary for a diverse world. The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race?

I've only posted a couple of snippets from the article to save space. If this is a topic that interests you the article is worth reading. The authors also have a recently release book called NurtureShock that looks very interesting.

Colorblindness: the New Racism?

Kawania Wooten’s voice tightens when she describes the struggle she’s having at the school her son attends. When his class created a timeline of civilization, Wooten saw the Greeks, the Romans and the Incas. But nothing was said about Africa, even though the class has several African American students. (snip)

...Wooten, who is black, spoke to the school’s director, a white woman — who insisted that the omission wasn’t racially biased.

“Her first comment was, ‘you know, we’ve just been following the curriculum. We’re not talking about whether people are white or black,’” recalls Wooten, who lives in Bowie, Md. “I said that the children have eyes and they can see. And I’d like them to see that our culture was a strong, viable culture.”

That kind of story brings a groan from Mark Benn, a psychologist and adjunct professor at Colorado State University. He hears similar tales whenever he delivers lectures about race relations.

Such incidents are examples of racial “colorblindness” — the idea that ignoring or overlooking racial and ethnic differences promotes racial harmony.

"Trainers and facilitators say colorblindness does just the opposite: folks who enjoy racial privilege are closing their eyes to the experiences of others."

But claims of colorblindness really are modern-day bigotry, according to Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a sociology professor at Duke University. In his book White Supremacy and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era, Bonilla-Silva argues that racism has become more subtle since the end of segregation. He considers colorblindness the common manifestation of the “new racism.”

Read this article and more at

"Race Class Conversations" (PDF) tells of small scale research project done with kindergartners in Hadley Massachusetts regarding discussions of racial differences. Provides some ideas for getting the discussions started. Targeted towards teachers but useful for parents also.

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Replies to This Discussion

Does that make me no different than the parents they are describing??

What I'm getting from this is that it isn't enough to teach our kids that we are all just part of the big species called "human". That we need to talk more about the cultural differences, and our past and how those things effect the way people interact in our society.

I think for me, I'm older and that makes a difference, maybe it's harder? I remember seeing news about riots in Boston during school desegregation but we never talked about why this was happening. There is so much bias (and worse outright bigotry) in our society still, whether we realize it or not our kids are seeing the bias and making their own assumptions.
I was essentially raised "color blind". Born in 1966 grew up in the still (economically) segregated North East - I don't know if my parents just didn't know HOW to talk about race or purposefully avoided discussing it. I went to college in Boston and and was utterly unprepared (as I'm sure my parents would have been also) for the more diverse culture there. To say that I was intimidated would be an understatement. For a few years I lived directly opposite a low income housing project. From my apartment building full of middle class college students I witnessed beatings, car theft, purse snatching etc., not to mention the multitude of murders that occurred inside the project. Unfortunately this was my first "education" on race some 20 odd years ago. Needless to say it wasn't at all positive.

And yet, I didn't really think about any of these things in approaching race with my children (who are mixed Asian/White). I thought I would be okay to raise them "color blind" as I had been. We talk about differences but only in the context of telling them that people come in all different packages that how they look is determined by how their parents look, and so on. When Obama was elected was when I realized that this was a misguided approach. I casually mentioned to Ethan that Obama was "the first black man elected president of our country" to which my son replied "and Jerry is the first black boy to go to school!" (Jerry was the lone black child in his kindergarten class).

Woa! Uh-oh. Yes, we too live in a racially, specifically economically, segregated area in the North. I know I need to do more to teach my kids the history behind our racial past but still the question is how to do that in an age appropriate way. I was very interested reading the PDF about the study in MA and how it talks about simply immersing kids in a diverse culture doesn't get the job done. It's really given me more food for thought.

My dad was pretty racist and comes from family that is also racist. Not really kkk material but backed by the Buybull none the less. The neighborhood where I grew up was predominately near poverty Caucasian. It never made sense to me that anyone would care about someone's color and so when I started bringing friends home that were not the same color I got a lot of grief from my family as well as neighbors. I decided that I would not use words like white or black as they made no sense to me because I am actually a peachy pink color, not white and what some call black people are really brown. Even though I talk with Aly about people's color and have laughed about the silliness of calling ourselves white, I think now I may be causing my daughter more confusion and these snippets seem to be proving that. Must read more!

Thank you for posting this Dawn!
Sadly racism is never going to go away especially if we continue to view different ethnic groups as different races. I can't stand that word, race, to describe different ethnic groups. I live in the south and racism runs rampant here. Luckily where I work we have a lot of inter ethnic couples and a couple of homosexual couples but since I work with the public I still have to hear many denigrating comments toward different ethnic groups. My sister in law is from Indonesia, so I hope that my child will get some cultural awareness through her.
This is always a tough subject, as is categorization of any type because eventually the 'why' part comes into play and I can't really give a good answer.
Ours is technically a bi-racial home (Latino (brown) and white) but, it is very easy for us to forget all about it. We generally us color terms and tell my son he's beige. We have a very relaxed attitude towards it. Fortunately his school is only 50% white in a town that is 82%-83% white.
We try to deal with this like everything else, very candidly. If he has questions they are answered; what I don't know I look up with him. We also go out of our way to incorporate books, shows, and games that involve a multitude of types of people. I love history and science so we watch things like "walking with Cavemen" together and talk about evolution. I've also explained that there is no such thing as any "pure race" because we have all combined by moving around the globe through things like imperialism (Especially England and Spain), slave trading, immigration etc. and how this effected traditions, religion, race, and language. One show that taught me something I loved was Time Warp Trio, which lead me to follow up on King Jinga.
Holidays have proven a great time to look at how different peoples' response to things like shortened days gave us our current traditions.
I'm sure I'm not perfect at it, but then again, there may not be one right answer.


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